Family Matters

Family Size and the New Evangelization

by Chris Beneteau

As proud parents of six children (one yet to be born), my wife and I are often amazed at the comments we receive when people discover the size of our family. Because it is hard to stand out in this day and age, more traditional rebellious behaviors have become mainstream, while traditional family activities and attitudes have become counter-cultural.

Everybody's A Critic

This means that if you are a man who stays married to one woman, has more than two children, and attends Church on a regular basis, people treat you as if you are from another planet. The big difference between the old rebels and the new rebels, however, is that faithful Catholics are rebels with a cause. The cause, in our case, is to pass the gospel message on to our children and to set a living example of authentic faith so that the Church can become strong once again.

As a father of so many, one of the most popular topics of conversations with friends, co-workers, and even relatives concerns my family's size. You would think that after the third or fourth child, family and friends would stop expressing shock and disbelief after learning about another pregnancy. Most of the time, however, the opposite reaction occurs. It seems that they are just waiting for my wife and me to make the big announcement: "Well, that's it. We are 'done'. Now we can have our life back."

How times have changed. Two generations ago, the reaction would have been quite different. Instead of expressing shock and horror at the arrival of the sixth child, a Catholic friend might instead say, "And to think that you still have ten more child-bearing years left" or "Well, you're halfway there." Sadly, though, all too often the remarks my family receives are sarcastic, cynical, or just plain insulting. The following list is a sample of some of the most common remarks we sometimes hear along with a few of my imagined, but unspoken comebacks:

• "Are these all yours?" ("Is this all you have?")

• "I don't know how you do it."

• "I can barely handle one child." ("I couldn't bear to have only one child.")

• "I wanted more but my husband got fixed." ("Actually, your husband is broken and he needs to be fixed.")

• "We tried NFP but it didn't work for us."

• "Are you done yet?" ("Have you begun yet?")

• "So how many children do you want to have?"

• "You're crazy!" ("You're lazy!")

• "Just what do you two do in that bedroom anyway?"

• "Have you two ever heard of birth control?"

• "You have almost got enough for a baseball team." (You almost have enough for a tennis match.")

• "Is your wife pregnant yet?"

• "Don't you two have a TV?"

• "I didn't know you ran a daycare facility!"

While most of these comments are somewhat irritating, I must always remind myself that the people expressing these thoughts are being challenged with the Gospel of Life through the mere presence of my large family. A number of these incidences have remained with me, and a few of them bear relating here.

A Sideshow on Wheels

One memorable episode occurred when the seven of us walked through the door of our local McDonald's restaurant. As my wife struggled to get our newborn daughter out of the car seat, the four older brothers and I entered the restaurant ahead of them. Sitting at a booth by the door was a mother, father and their two young children. As I stood holding the door open, waiting for my wife and my daughter, the children and their parents gave us a long stare. In a very loud voice, one of the boys blurted out, "Mommy, daddy, look at the size of that family." The other boy then piped up and said, "Look, there are four boys."

As I continued to hold the door, my wife made her way through the door with our daughter. Glancing over at the family, I noticed a look of utter shock on both of the parents' faces. Their children then went ballistic and I heard them say, "O my God, there are five kids!" In order to avoid making a scene, the parents quickly moved to quiet their children. Being a little embarrassed, my wife and I shuffled our five children to the nearest booth. As I glanced back over my shoulder, I noticed that all four family members were staring at us. My wife later remarked that we had become the topic of conversation for the duration of their meal.

Perhaps in the course of the parents' conversation about our family's size, the Holy Spirit used us to plant a seed in their hearts to conceive new life. Indeed, it would be a great grace for them and for our dying culture if the parents thought to themselves, "If they can have more than two children, then why can't we?" A large family can reawaken the truth of the sanctity of human life which has been smothered by an aggressive anti-life culture. A seemingly innocuous incident such as this provided my family with a great opportunity to evangelize for the Gospel of Life. This particular form of evangelization does not require a lot of words, only mere presence.

Another occasion for evangelization occurred when a co-worker found out that my wife was expecting our sixth child. In the past, he would typically remark, "Well, is that it?" Traditionally, my reaction would have gravitated toward deflecting attention away from the issue by responding in an ambiguous way and quickly changing the topic. Sensing the Holy Spirit's guidance, this particular incident would be different. Instead of avoiding the issue, I confronted it. I replied, "Well, we always wanted to have six children." His next question was truly hilarious. "So are you going to get a hysterectomy?" After clarifying that the correct term was "vasectomy," he added, "Yeah, I mean are you going to get snipped?" At this point I started to get a little hot under the collar. I thought to myself, "Who does this guy think he is? Is it not enough that he obsesses over my family size? Now he wants to know if I am going to neuter myself for good. Has he no shame?!" Instead of my normal polite response, I decided to employ the tactic that these people so often employ on faithful Catholics. I looked him straight in the eye, raised my voice and with a firm sincerity replied, "No, I am not a dog!" I then added, "I can't think of anything more repulsive. We neuter animals by force, and yet we humans do it by choice. How sick is that!" He then let out an uncomfortable laugh and quickly changed the subject.

Hungry for Children

When women inquire about my family size, I tend to be a little gentler with my responses. Most of the women I know want more children, but societal and economic pressures — through what the Holy Father calls "sinful structures" — plant seeds of doubt in their minds. During my last dentist appointment, for instance, my hygienist asked me about my family. When I told her that we were having our sixth child, she asked, "It is so rare these days for a family to have as many children as you have. May I ask why you have so many?" Now I could have responded in a number of ways, but on this occasion the Holy Spirit inspired me to respond with simplicity and humility. Before I had a chance to even think of a response, these words fell from my mouth: "Because we love them."

A moment of silence followed my response, as if some great truth had been revealed to her. Instead of trying to find an excuse or provide an "intelligent" reason for more children, I had allowed God to guide me to the most effective and authentic response possible. Love of children is why we have more of them. This is the simple truth. We have children because they reflect the love that we have for the Creator. To share in His creative power is awesome because it is to share in an infinite love. When we have children, we participate in the creation of something that never existed before yet will live for all eternity. What a beautiful and awesome gift and responsibility this is!

Our experiences in engaging our culture serve to remind my wife and me just how blessed we are. We are also reminded that our children will likely grow to share our pro-life views and hopefully fill the twilight of our existence with many grandchildren. What our secular society fails to understand is that love never divides — it multiplies.

The future is truly in the hands of large families. As the birth rates in North America and other developed countries continue to plunge, children from large families will fill the gaps left by the families that choose voluntary extinction. "Blessed are the meek", our Lord says, "for they will inherit the earth" — or, in this case, their children will.

Chris Beneteau
The Catholic Legate
October 16, 2004

This article originally appeared on Catholic Exchange.